Tiramisu


Is it me or is this one of the weirder HK films in quite a while? I also wasn’t sure if this was a really bad film or not. Logically it had to be and yet at times it was surprisingly effective and in the end it is like waking up from a fitful dream that has left you with a sense of longing but you can’t remember why. Part of this confusion is simply the style of the film –  on the surface it has all the characteristics of a glistening teen idol effort wrapped in mounds of sugary sweet tooth decaying taffy – but underneath the pretty gloss was a bizarre plot with a real sense of sadness and loss. Director Dante Lam has previously taken genres such as the buddy cop film (Beast Cops) and triads (Jiang Hu) and turned them a bit on their heads and I wonder whether he is doing something similar here. Get all the teenage lovey dovey couples into the theater with promises of a goopy romance and bring on two young beautiful stars who will inevitably have to fall in love - and then hit the audience in the face with death – the suddenness of it – the sadness of it – the holes it creates in people’s lives and hearts – the finality of it – and yet keep it sugar coated till the very end.
Of course I am not really sure what genre Lam might be trying to fool with here. The plot feels like two very distinct scripts that are very awkwardly melded into one story – sort of like Ghost meets Strictly Ballroom (or to use HK films – perhaps Chinese Ghost Story meets Dance of a Dream) but more perverse. The entire story is ludicrous beyond belief and yet no one in the film seems to realize this – everyone acts as if nothing is much out of the ordinary – this is just a sweet love story – and that’s what makes it all so perverse. Why perverse - because one of them is dead for nearly the entire film.
Appearing on the Hong Kong film scene only this year (2002), 23-year-old Karena Lam (a.k.a. Karena Lin) is on a major roll and has been extremely impressive in her first three outings. Already the subject of a number of Chinese Web sites, Canadian born Karena managed to get the leading female role in all three of these high profile films and has starred opposite Jacky Cheung in July Rhapsody as a Lolita like teenager out to seduce her teacher, with Leslie Cheung in Inner Senses as a seemingly disturbed young woman who thinks she sees ghosts and here plays against someone much more in her age bracket, Nicholas Tse, and now she is a ghost. A very nice one. It is largely her sweet performance that takes this film out of the realm of total absurdity to one of having some emotional impact.
Karena’s character Jane Chan is an aspiring dancer with a community group and one day she keeps bumping into Nicholas Tse  - a deaf messenger – on the subway, on the street and in her workplace. Ah, fate clearly has its finger pointed at this couple you think – until about 15 minutes into the film Karena is run over by a car and killed. Like dead. Kaput. Corpus Delicti. What sort of love story is this? Nicholas never even got her name. They never spoke. But because he was thinking of her and she was thinking of him when she died – he is able to communicate with and see her ghost that soon appears by his side. She needs a place to hide. The Underworld Cops are looking for her. She wants to stay among the living for a week. Why? Because that’s when the final dance competition is going to take place! She is dead and she’s worried about the dance competition. Otherwise she doesn’t seem all that concerned about being deceased and is actually pretty chipper most of the time. Nothing worse of course than a glum ghost for company.
Now if a ghost came up to you and asked to stay at your place for a week and that these Darth Vader like creatures on horses were coming for her, you might hesitate  - but not Nicholas – sure no problem – my roommate (Eason Chan) is such an idiot he will never notice that I am talking to a ghost – come on over – make tiramisu – suck on lollypops – ride the merry go round – go to jazz clubs – see your funeral - fall in love. Why is it that female ghosts make the best lovers in Hong Kong films? Of course a ghost can’t perform in a dance competition – so she asks Nicholas if she can enter him and have him dance – sure no problem – I always wondered what it would feel like to have a ghost inside me and be able to tap dance. It gets sillier – much sillier – but pretends so hard not to be - and yet there is that underlying real sense of loss that clings to the film like dripping maple syrup.
Much of this is due to the pain that her death causes to the living – to her parents, to her little sister, to her good friend and dance partner, Candy Lo, and finally to Nicholas Tse who has come to love her so much that he is willing to follow her into the underworld - (a chalet in France with a big fire place!?). It hurts these people. A lot. So somehow this film manages to navigate around the clumsy storytelling and the idol imaging and create a few real emotions. It’s still a very odd film though and probably not a very good one, but the production values are excellent, the actors are appealing (with the exception of a very annoying over the top Eason) and you can learn how to make tiramisu.

My rating for this film: 6.0